I used to really love the show, Dragon Ball Z. The anime was just completely off the wall with a nonsensical story that served only to link huge, world-shattering fights that could easily stretch two to three episodes. That was three episodes of two, three, and four characters beating the living crap out of each other. Pure bliss.
You’d think it would be easy to interpret something like that into a game; especially a fighting game. But each attempt at a DBZ game seemed to be missing some key component that would tie it all together into the perfect package.
Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is the closest to that perfection the series has ever come. The latest in the Tenkaichi series, DBZ is not a perfect game, but it finally adds elements that elevates it above the previous games and into something longtime DBZ fans, as well as newbies can both enjoy.
I won’t even try to explain the story of DBZ, let’s just leave it as an exercise in over-the-top, mystic art combat. There are beloved characters such as Goku, his son, Gohan, Piccalo, Krillin, and villains such as Vegeta, Raditz, and Frieza. And the game does its best to follow along with the TV show, but when it gets down to it, DBZ is a fighting game. Who needs a story?
The combat is handled with three buttons, each button representing a unique attack, each with a melee or a blast range. The fourth face button is used for blocking defense. While that seems simple it is anything but.
The beauty of the combat is chaining combos with screen-prompted button pushes. As you land blows, you build up your ki, which can be used to fuel some pretty devastating moves. Those simple button presses become earth-shattering (in some cases, literally) attacks that are as exciting to watch as it is to pull off.
There are unlockable moves and finishers, and as you progress through the story mode, more characters are unlocked. The more you play, the more variety you create for yourself.
There is also a character (hero) creator, which is a first for a DBZ game. The choices are pretty limited, as you are forced to stay within the great Akira Toriyama’s design parameters, but the end result is that you get to create a character that is customizable and then you get to go face-to-face with Goku or Nappa. It’s a DBZ fan’s dream come true.
Unfortunately, there are major flaws within the game. Most of the story is told through a simple scrolling story (that cannot be skipped) between the fights. And there is a problem with the load screens.
To say Dragonball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi has a lot of load screens means that you really need a thesaurus to find a word that means something much stronger than “a lot.” I have never played a game with this many load screens. There’s a load screen before a fight, before the story scroll, after the story scroll, before the character intro, again before the fight, and sometimes, two or three times during the middle of the fight. EACH TIME. Seriously.
Developer Spike and publisher Namco-Bandai tried to alleviate this by creating a fun little shooting game during the load screens, but to interrupt a brawl with 35 seconds of shooting floating milk bottles is just ridiculous.
Another flaw is the lack of variety in the characters during combat. Hero Goku fights the same as the diminutive Krillin, and they both fight the same as the Demon King, Piccalo. The only difference is in the ki-charged finisher moves, but to even get to the point you have to launch a series of kicks and punches and launches that are the same for everybody.
The graphics are vibrant and recall the aesthetic of the anime, and in some cases the art is even better. Spike also opted for a hybrid of cell-shading to give Toriyama’s characters a believable three dimensions.
The character models look so much better that way than if fully rendered, as in the Xbox 360-exclusive RPG Blue Dragon, for example, which also featured Toriyama-designed characters. The cell-shading retains the signature detail that Toriyama is known for.
The music is generic and looping, and after ten minutes, the sound of studio guitar will melt your brain. Luckily, the game allows for Custom Soundtracks. It’s either that or the mute button.
The sound effects are straight from the anime, as is the voice acting. Not that the voice acting is memorable. It’s mostly threats and taunts and grunts.
DBZ features online battles as well as multiplayer battles. There are leaderboards to keep track of your progress, and add-on content is coming.
Ultimate Tenkaichi is the best DBZ game to date, if judged solely on the fighting. When you add the story mode (or wordy, confusing, story scroll) and the infuriating, and seemingly never-ending load screens, the game starts to lose its momentum. In the end, it packs a decent punch but causes very little damage.
Shop for Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi on Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 for a discounted price at Amazon.com (October 25, 2011 release date).